Saturday, February 13, 2021

Read the Whole Thing


I posted a document in October of last year, which I had been working on for a couple of months. It was a recreation of an Elizabethan political pamphlet, which I spoke about on my blog about Elizabethan English you can find that post here. Now, I did this because I wanted to try writing my own Elizabethan political pamphlet and it gave me the chance to have a play with the language, so it was a bit of fun. The reception was not what I expected.

It was thought that I was decrying the use of rubber-band guns (RBGs) on the rapier melee field in the SCA, complaining about their use. I merely used the subject of firearms and their impact upon  swordsmanship, a very Elizabethan political topic as my focus. I however focused the argument primarily on the unreliability of the weapons and their primary source of ignition, black powder. The issue was that most read the first part of the argument, where the initial complaint was made, and did not bother to read the rest where the argument unfolded. This, unfortunately happens with a lot of texts, and I have not been immune.

When I first was introduced to the rapier and all things about it, I went madly searching about for treatises about their use. Well, back in the late 1990s there was the choice of three manuals: Saviolo, di Grassi and Silver. For my initial starting I started with George Silver. I started to read his Paradoxes of Defence, only to find that the man was decrying the use of rapiers and telling the reader how useless they were and other such opinions. I did not finish reading the treatise in that sitting feeling that there was nothing of use that I could find in his treatise, indeed I almost avoided anything to do with the author. 

Some almost ten years later I circled back to his treatises. Had I read further than I did, in among his complaints about the Italians and their practices, there are actually some gems which are quite useful and I have been using in my training ever since. So for ten years I missed out on useful information because I did not bother reading the whole thing because I thought I knew what he was on about from the first part of his treatise.

Don't fall into the same trap that I did and others often do, don't assume that you know what the author is talking about just by what they have said in their introductory comments. This goes once for modern documents, double for any document which is either not originally written in our language, and triple for any which is not in our time. Arguments were formed differently in different periods. In the pursuit of arms of different periods, or indeed the pursuit of scholarship of anything from a different period this needs to be taken into account. Read the entire thing before you make your opinions about what the author is trying to say, and their evidence.

Scholarly articles in the modern world, have an abstract which give the reader a precis of what the writer will be writing about, describing in very general terms the ideas which will be presented and a very basic idea of the argument. This is not sufficient to know the argument presented. 

Scholarly articles are usually set out with an introduction, body and conclusion. Sometimes these are even given headings so that they are easy to find. When a person is skimming through lots of documents it may be sufficient to read just the introduction and the conclusion, but this only scrapes the surface of what the author is speaking about and what evidence they use to support it. Only the basic idea of the argument is then known.

Only through reading the entire document will the reader understand where the reader is coming from, what data they are using as evidence, and how they are forming their argument. This is the only way that the reader can understand whether the argument is strong enough to be supported or not. The paper may be well-written but the data may be rubbish, and you won't know unless you read the whole thing.

In terms of a novel, would you only read the beginning and the end? No, you want to see what trials the character went through and how they got to the end. This is the same with anything else that you read. If you want to make a decent argument about something you need to read the whole thing. If you don't you will make assumptions about what is in there and your argument will be poor, and it will become obvious that you haven't actually read it.

You never know, you might actually find something of real interest in something that you read that you thought at the beginning was not going to interest you.



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